A reading and reflection for Thursday, December 20, 2012.
The nineteenth day of Advent.
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Isaiah 9:2-7 NRSV
There are layers of meaning in the Old Testament prophets. These words of Isaiah were first written not to foretell the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, but to advance the present hope that God would save his people from their current crisis. The writings of the prophets are like sheets of transparency paper on which is written present, immediate crises. Over time, other interpretations and meanings begun to be assigned to these texts--similar to laying another transparency over the first. You can still see the original there, underneath the extra layers, but you are always viewing it through whatever is on top. When the New Testament writers came along and reflected on the birth and life of Jesus, whom they understood to be Messiah (God's anointed leader), they added an additional transparency layer to the top of the pile. Now it is quite difficult for a Christian to read the Old Testament prophets and NOT see predictions concerning Jesus. We are, in a matter of speaking, reading the Old Testament through that layer of New Testament theology.
Furthermore, it is a poor reading of the original aims of Isaiah that suggests his original message indicated that Messiah would come 500 years later as a baby born in Bethlehem. The crisis facing the people of Judah--spiritual depravity, moral calamity, royal inferiority, and the ever-present threat of invasion--is the immediate crisis into which Isaiah spoke. Isaiah addressed these with the hope that God would rescue the people and re-establish a holy kingdom under a king whose lineage traced back to the great king David.
However, it is not wrong to interpret this text in light of Jesus and his coming as a baby in Bethlehem. With the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ, the old words of the prophets are taken up and radically reapplied in ways unintentioned by their original writers. Without knowing it, Isaiah speaks of Christ, for Jesus' birth brought with it the dawn of the day of redemption in which God will break "the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor."
In Jesus Christ, we see the "child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." And while Isaiah intended these terms to apply to God (the Hebrew seems to suggest that authority rests on "God's shoulders"), in Jesus Christ we comfortably reapply these terms to the one who we confess to be God from God, and Light from Light. Jesus can be these things: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, because he was all of these ideals in human flesh.
Isaiah wasn't gazing into a crystal ball. He didn't look into the future and say that 500 years later a baby would be born in Bethlehem named Jesus. Rather, Isaiah's theological convictions that God alone would restore his people and be for them a counsellor, God, Father, and peace are applicable in a concrete way to the person of Jesus.
1. What do you think about "prophecy?" What have you heard about the prophets in the Bible?
2. Is it difficult to understand this text apart from Jesus?
3. What do you think it means for God in Jesus to be "Prince of Peace" in a world torn up by war?
4. How does the church bear witness to this Jesus who is
Today's action is to listen to more of Handel's Messiah. The selection for today is taken from our text above. Though is ubiquitous and heard everywhere this time of year, it still speaks in profound ways.